Milton Transit to review Saturday Service

Milton Council approved my notice of motion last night to have staff review Saturday transit service.

Milton TransitThe town has been operating this service for 18 months and so far have fallen short of expectations. Ridership on a number of the routes has been decreasing on a quarterly basis since last year.

For example Route #4 Thompson Clark

Saturday Revenue Passenger Trips per Revenue Service Hour – Monthly (unaudited numbers)

Q1 – 10.7

Q2 – 9.0

Q3 – 4.2

Q4 – 4.1

NOW, lets compare this to Weekly numbers for the same route.

Weekly Revenue Passenger Trips per Reveune Service Hour – Monthly (unaudited numbers)

Q1 – 22.6

Q2 – 20.4

Q3 – 14.8

Q4 – 20.9

Saturday Route # 6 Scott

Q1 – 4.9

Q2 – 7.0

Q3 – 5.3

Q4 – 5.2

Weekly Route # 6 Scott

Q1 – 10.8

Q2 – 12.0

Q3 – 12.2

Q4 – 12.1

There have been 3 routes that have slightly increased in numbers but only marginally over the last 12 months. Highest revenue passenger ride for a route in the last 3 quarters has been 9.0 while the lowest is 4.0

What these numbers show me is that this service is far under utilized by Milton residents and one of two actions need to be taken. Either cancel the service for the time being or review the routes, see if we can make them more conducive to what Milton transit riders need and make it more efficient.

Milton Transit regularly polls their customers but to be quite honest the more telling comments come from non users. And not just the ones who will never use Milton Transit, but those who could, but don’t. The ones who have to pick their kids up from child care after work and need their vehicle once they step off the GO train in the evening. The ones who could use it to get to their part-time job but the service isn’t available after a particular hour for them to come home.

This is where we need to build the service around. Do we need routes during the day running at 1/2 hr service times or would 1hr suffice for the time being?

These are the questions we need to have answers to. Last council approved a Transit Master Plan, which in my opinion, and the opinion of others, painted a rather rosy picture of transit growth and set benchmarks that even in ideal circumstances wouldn’t be met. I didn’t approve of the master plan, but it passed regardless.

This review of Saturday transit is what I personally feel is something we should be doing every year, but the results will be telling. In my opinion, if Saturday ridership numbers do not increase, council will once again be forced to look at options. We cannot simply be paying to provide a service that very few use.

Imagine if the Town of Milton provided recreational programs, staffing, time and resources that very few people utilized? It would be looked at and if it couldn’t be improved, more than likely that program would be cancelled.

It’s the same with transit. With roughly $350,000 per year (my approximation) being spent on Saturday transit and participation in that service not increasing or in some cases declining, something has to be done.

Lets look at different routes that get people to where they need to go on Saturday. Downtown Milton, shopping centres, Milton Sports Centre, the hospital, the libraries….feel free to add some more if I’ve missed any.

Will that mean a possible increase in travel time? Maybe an increase in the time between buses in some areas?

Right now our transit system is built around the GO Station. That might make sense for Monday to Friday, but Saturday it doesn’t. So let’s make some Saturday only routes, educate the public on these routes, encourage them to use the service, give it a try…

There were some suggestions made that we look at increasing the time for transfers so that they can be used within a 3 hour period instead of immediately after. Another idea is allowing 12 and under children ride for free.

Will that help a dad or mom make a choice “My kids will ride for free, so let’s try the bus.” ? We don’t know the answer to that question. We need to start asking them in order to get the answers.

Feel free to pass along this information to your friends and neighbours. I want to provide staff with enough information so that we can improve the system, make it more efficient and in turn save some taxpayers dollars.

If we continue on this path of hoping ridership goes up without making an effort, we are effectively tossing money out the window while patting ourselves on the back that we have a transit system. Lets make it the best it can be and as economical as possible. Lets build a system on successes rather than on “we hope it works out”

If you build something on a poor foundation, the whole structure will fall as you continue to build on it. Lets build a solid, efficient and cost-effective transit structure to build on as we continue to grow.

Council Approves Another Tax Increase 3.04%

Here is an article from the Milton Canadian Champion with a very brief summation of the budget committee meeting this past Monday at Milton Town Hall.  The meeting went on for over 4 hours and our initial goal was to be at 2.95% increase or lower but it went in the other direction.

There were three main items that council approved that helped send this increase in the budget over the rate of inflation (which is the number I normally support).  The items include an increase increase for parking control because of the change in policy from 3 hour parking to 5 on Milton streets ($55,000), Saturday transit service starting in September 2013 (4 months $76,000) and finally an infrastructure reserve “levy” so to speak ($100,000 every year).

During the budget debate I opposed these three measures (Saturday transit service you can find in another blog entry) and the other two items listed I didn’t support and were subject to a recorded vote.  I did find it interesting that a councillor who voted in support of the transit & parking control measures (which amounted to $133,000 or just over 1.0% of the budget) ended up voting against the budget as a whole.  If they had NOT supported this measure I can understand voting against it.  Isnt that like having your cake and eating it too?

I’ll be posting more on this and other issues as we get closer to Monday night’s council meeting (my birthday by the way 🙂 ) and no doubt these and other items will be discussed over the next year.

Proposed Town budget to go to council next week

After spending hours debating what to include in the Town’s 2013 budget, members of the budget committee Monday night approved a 3 per cent tax hike for urban residents and a 3.05 per cent tax hike for rural residents.

If the budget passes next week, the average rural resident and urban resident will pay an extra $23.17 and $26.46 respectively on a home assessed at $350,000.

The budget committee voted 6-5 in favour of the proposed budget. Councillors and staff spent the night crunching the numbers in an attempt to meet or lower the staff’s recommended hike of 2.95 per cent.

Voting in favour of approving the budget were councillors Colin Best, Sharon Barkley, Cindy Lunau, Arnold Huffman, Rick Di Lorenzo and Zeeshan Hamid.

Voting against it were Mayor Gord Krantz, councillors Rick Malboeuf, Tony Lambert, Greg Nelson and Mike Cluett.

Hamid said it was a complicated budget to work with.

“I don’t think any one of us are happy with what we have, but it’s a compromise,” he said.

“I’m hoping that we recognize that we all came up with this document collectively.”

Krantz said he had hoped for the increase to be closer to the inflation rate of about 2 per cent.

An infrastructure renewal reserve fund was added to the budget Monday night to address future needs. An initial $100,000 to establish the fund increased the proposed tax hike from 2.75 per cent to about 3 per cent.

Barkley argued that the difference Milton residents would be paying next year is a few dollars extra.

Other amendments, additions and deletions to the budget include:

• Allowing the library to open a half hour earlier at a cost of $16,448.

• Permitting the main library to be open on Mondays at a cost of $69,702.

• Discontinuing the Talk of the Town publication, which will save the Town $12,000

• Reducing the budget for catch basin cleaning, which will save the Town $20,000

• Cutting the number of councillors who attend the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference to the mayor and three other councillors, which will save the Town $8,000.

The capital portion of the budget projects a $65.4 million investment in about 100 projects related to new infrastructure and the rehabilitation of existing assets like facilities, roads, bridges, parks and equipment. About 82 per cent of the investment would go to projects to address the current and future needs of the community while 18 per cent of the investment would go to the renewal and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure.

The operating part of the budget, which looks after the delivery of services required to meet the needs arising from growth in the community and to support the quality of life that residents expect, is projected at around $94.4 million. It’s divided among the Town’s departments, with engineering services, community services and planning and fire departments providing the most direct services to the community.

Enhancements include hiring five additional fulltime firefighters at the new James Snow Parkway station, improved economic development resources to develop an innovation centre, extended transit services to include Saturdays, and parking enforcement to accommodate a proposed five-hour parking regulation.

Town staff said Milton continues to have one of the lowest tax rate in Halton and Peel regions.

The Town’s portion of the overall property tax bill is now estimated at 31 per cent. The regional and education taxes are proposed to make up 43 per cent and 26 per cent respectively.

That means Miltonians could see an overall tax increase of 1.61 per cent in the urban area and 1.57 per cent in the rural area on their 2013 property tax bills.

Why Saturday Transit in Milton Can Wait

As many of you will read in the Milton Canadian Champion, Town Council recently approved (yet to be ratified) a property tax increase of 3.04% urban and 3.05% rural for 2013.  This budget included many needed capital and operating projects that will help improve the quality of life in town.

I can speak to those measures in another blog, but I wanted to bring to your attention the budget committee’s approval of offering Saturday Transit service.  Earlier this year, when the concept of Saturday transit was on the table before council, we had voted to defer the program until we had an opportunity to review the Milton Transit Master Plan.

This master plan will help set the course of where transit would go in Milton from 2013 and beyond.  To date we have still not received that report.  Many councillors, including myself, had attended the public meetings over the summer to help provide input in that master plan.  This report is slated to be reviewed by council in January, although it was initially supposed to be presented in November, which would have given us a chance to reviews its findings and make decisions at that time.

Minus the Milton Transit Master plan, I felt it was necessary to not support the Saturday service.  This service is slated to begin in September of 2013 at a cost to Milton taxpayers of $76,000.00 for 4 months.  Through this measure, we have now committed this and future councils to an annualized cost of $228,000.00 + per year for this service.

Some have asked me why did I not support it.  The short answer is that its not time yet for such a service despite some public feedback that we need it now.  I am supportive of the concept of expanding our transit services in the coming years, but not right now given some of the numbers I have been reviewing.

This blog post is to serve as the “long” answer to that question of why not now.

With a proposed $76,000 in operating expenses for Saturday service beginning in September 2013, and a targeted Revenue : Cost ratio (set by staff) of 45%, the revenue required to reach the R/C goal results in 671 fares per Saturday. To be fair, the current R/C ratio is 40%, resulting in 596 fares per Saturday, to maintain the status quo.

76,000 x 45% = 34,200 / 3.00 Fare / 17 Saturdays = 671
76,000 x 40% = 30,400 / 3.00 Fare / 17 Saturdays = 596

Based on the most recent Monthly Ridership Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) from October 2012, Milton Transit totalled 31,697 boardings that month.  There were 23 days of service. The result is a daily total average of 1,378 boardings. So at first glance, all Saturday service needs to do is operate at half the capacity to meet the 45% R/C target.

However, 930 of the conventional ridership were School Specials and Evening Drop Offs (which will not be included in Saturday service). Also to be noted, October 2012 was an anomalous 5,000 riders higher than any other month, ever. Using the annual average (with the inflated October numbers) of 25,527 boardings per month, the daily average is 1,109 boardings (based on a 23 day service month). Therefore Saturday transit service will need to operate at 60% of conventional weekday service to reach the R/C target, and 53% of the current R/C ratio. Keep in mind, approximately 930 riders (October numbers) of the monthly ridership will be automatically voided due to the fact School and Evening routes will not be offered.

But clearly, this increase in the budget has been called upon by the majority of residents in order for Council to deem it a valuable expenditure? Hardly. Of the 1290 recorded Customer Comments from 2012, 190 (14.7%) were related to weekend service.

But then, Milton Transit must be showing numbers of increasing growth which would demonstrate the need for service growth? Again, hardly. The first graph below indicates that while Milton Transit has been steadily growing since Q1 of 2010, with the biggest spike between Q3-Q4 2010, 2012 has not been a growth year. In fact, this has marked the first year since 2008 where quarterly numbers failed to meet the previous quarter back-to-back (ie. 2012 Q2 was less than 2012 Q1, and 2012 Q3 was less than 2012 Q2).

The next chart confirms the findings of the chart above, but shows the actual numbers, not the percentage.

While the overall ridership has grown dramatically, Milton Transit has reached a point where actual ridership is being lost.

The last graph shows that Milton Transit has already experienced the boom on ridership Annual Quarter to Annual Quarter.

Example – the biggest argument you will hear from staff is that numbers are always down in the summer. That is true. And numbers pick way up come September. Also true.

So I have compared the growth between Quarters in subsequent years. Notice that the greatest increase (almost unforeseen in Transit) was almost 90% growth! That was when Milton Transit attracted the most riders, and since that time, Annual Quarter to Annual Quarter has dropped significantly – almost to the point of stagnation.

Clearly, these are not promising numbers to a system that wishes to add service.  My opinion is that this is a way to promote conventional weekday service through offering the Saturday service. Which for $76,000 is a cheaper way to advertise, while still offering the service.

Add to that the findings from Dillon Consulting that 56% of all Milton Transit trips start or end at the Milton Go Station. It is not a stretch to submit that the majority of those riders are Go Service users (specifically, Go Train).

Considering the fact that the Go Train does not operate on Saturdays, I would also submit that to attain any reasonable level of ridership without Go Train users (and hence Evening Drop Off’ers), and School Specials, is highly improbable and I would challenge staff or Milton Transit to divulge any relevant statistics or findings to indicate otherwise.

I believe this to be a case of ‘We Should Do This Because That’s What Cities Do’, not ‘We Must Do This For The Betterment of Milton’.